GM’s Advice: Why You Should Add a Barroom Brawl to Your Campaign

Brawls are chaotic affairs with combatants using whatever is at hand to smash and bash their enemies into submission. In short, they are tremendous fun!

By Matt Morrow

By Matt Morrow


I love running barroom brawls.

Barroom brawls are one of the quintessential events that occur in taverns, inns and pubs of a certain quality. Alcohol mixed liberally with folk used to solving problems with violence is an explosive combination. The great thing about barroom brawls, though, is that although people get hurt, it’s rare that anyone dies. This means the players can let their hair down and try some crazy stuff they’d never try in a “proper” battle.

One of my earliest gaming memories is of running a village brawl back while I was at school. Recently, I ran a barroom brawl in my Borderland of Adventure campaign that culminated in the party being thrown out of town!

I’ve run brawls for several reasons:

  • Change of Pace: The great thing about barroom brawls is that although people get hurt, they rarely die. This means the players can try all manner of hair-raising, insane tactics without having to worry about their PC’s imminent demise. They are a great way for the players to blow off steam after a successful (or disastrous) adventure.
  • Different Type of Challenge: Barroom brawls often utilise lots of lesser known rules (such as unarmed combat, improvised weapons and so on). Such events offer different challenges to a normal dungeon delve. They are also a sneaky way of introducing the PCs to lesser known rules they might need in the near future.
  • Introduce an NPC: Brawls are a great opportunity to introduce NPCs to the party. If they save someone from a serious beating they could make a friend for life who may be able to help them in the future. However, they can just as easily make an enemy. Such an enemy is different to their normal adversaries. Instead of just trying to kill them, he could make the PCs’ lives a misery in town – rubbishing their reputation, stymieing their information gathering and so on. Perhaps the party brawl with another group of adventurers and from this innocuous beginning a deadly rivalry slowly grows.
  • Start An Adventure: A barroom brawl is a much better start to an adventure than a mysterious stranger approaching the party with an offer of employment. Things can get broken or stolen in a brawl. They are also excellent cover for theft, kidnap, assassination and more. A prospective employer could even deliberately start a brawl to judge the adventurers’ capabilities.

Remember the reasons above are not mutually exclusive. A brawl can serve several purposes at the same time.

Help Fellow GMs!

Have you featured a barroom brawl in your campaign for another reason? Why not share it in the comments below and help your fellow GMs run a better brawl today!

This post is part of Urban Week. Urban Week celebrates the release of GM’s Miscellany: Urban Dressing from Raging Swan Press which is available from Thursday 26 June. I hope you find it useful and that it enhances your urban campaigns!



Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “GM’s Advice: Why You Should Add a Barroom Brawl to Your Campaign

  1. Also a good chance for the enemies thief to steal that important macguffin from the unsuspecting party!

  2. Perfect opportunity to get some equipment off your more powerful player characters, snatching items that’s been breaking the game, or the players could gain items & money falling or no longer guarded in a corner, or just walk out on a hefty 4 day bar tab. Assassination attempts, gang territory disputes can be settled, kidnapping a PC is always great fun.

  3. I included a barroom fight in Agnosco Adventum, featured in the Canonfire! Chronicles. It was a fully armed and armored fight, rather than a proper brawl as you describe above, but it was always great fun to run for all the playtest groups.

    I think it would be a blast to set up a brawl where the PCs aren’t tempted to turn it into a deadly melee.